Twenty Time-Tested Ways to Fail
at Parenting Adolescents

H. Dan Smith, EdD, MFT

1."Providing structure is too difficult in these stressful times!" Kids need and want structure, and parents must provide it. Too much freedom leads to lack of self-control, inability to prioritize, disregard for limits, etc.
2."I want to be your friend." You are not your adolescent's friend, but that is not to say you should not be friendly. Don't confide in them, don't use them for emotional support, don't make them care for you and your emotions.
3."Blind trust." Adolescents who are successful at lying tend to do it again, and even more audaciously. A great phrase was popularized during recent nuclear arms reduction talks with Russia, "Trust, but verify . . ." Alert parents live by this saying.
4."Bad is bad, good is expected." Parents too often do not reinforce positive behavior, but they are quick to criticize negative behavior. If kids only get your attention when they are bad, then they will frequently misbehave for your attention.
5."Live my dreams, please!" Don't force kids to live your failed dreams! Your kids are not YOU!
6."D's to B's, huh? What about A's?" Enough is never enough in some homes. It is easy for adolescents to quit trying if they always experience failure.
7."Excuse me, but I'll do that for you." Adolescents without responsibilities grow up to be irresponsible. Period.
8."The dangerous dilemma of differing disciplines." When mom and dad differ on how to discipline, adolescents will find ways to circumvent both. This problem has caused much grief for many good families.
9."If I discipline Darren, he'll dash off to dad." Fear of the ex-husband (or ex-wife) can cause you to appease rather than discipline. The appeaser is usually the short-run winner, and the long-run loser.
10."Federalizing misdemeanors; plea bargaining felonies." Pick your fights well. If every problem gets the same attention, adolescents don't learn the difference between "problems" and "real problems."
11."The 'latchkey' monster; the evil hours from 2:40 p.m. to 5:15 p.m." Most of us have to work these days. Unfortunately, unsupervised time from the end of the school day until the parents come home from work has spelled the demise of many adolescents. Too much freedom leads to trouble. This is a very difficult situation for most parents to resolve.
12."Failing to believe in the power of peer pressure." Peers can talk good kids (even great kids) into doing very bad or dangerous things. Try to get to know your adolescent's friends as well as you know your own child. Make friends with your kid's friends. Know their parents and how to reach them. Know everything!
13."So what if I smoke/drink/do drugs? I'm the parent here. Do as I say, not as I do." This needs no explanation.
14."Who is the parent here, anyway?" Dysfunctional families frequently cast their children in the role of the principal decision-makers. Make sure this role is not assigned to your children--it is your job!
15."My children will have self-esteem! I'll work on mine after they are grown." You can't give your children a gift that you don't possess. Think about it!
16."Shaming my child into behaving shamelessly." A poor method of discipline that seems to get fairly "positive" results with very young children. Young children who are shamed give their parents well-deserved hell during adolescence (if their self-esteem has not been entirely destroyed). Don't shame your kids!
17."It's the bottom of the ninth inning, two outs, two strikes. When do I start parenting?" Sooner than later!
18."Stop telling me what you feel and listen to what I think!" If parents don't listen, children will stop talking. When dialogue stops, deceit begins.
19."My son is bad. Must be a bad seed. My daughters are fine. Thank goodness the problem is not me!" Families are a system; all members interact and everyone in the family contributes to the son's role development. This statement affirms the parent's unwillingness be actively involved in parenting kids who are out of control.
20."If it was good enough for me, it is good enough for you." Parenting the way you were parented is not good enough. This ain't the fifties!

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